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Close to home with Mary Beth Breckenridge

Wall-mounted timer switch operates lights automatically

By Mary Beth Breckenridge Published: October 13, 2013

One of my projects this weekend was installing a wall-mounted timer switch for my front-porch lights.

I think it’s a pretty cool little gadget.

The timer – the Honeywell EconoSWITCH 7-Day Programmable Timer for Lights -- replaces my old system for controlling the lights, which consisted of a couple of socket adapters with photocells. The adapters were supposed to turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn by sensing the daylight, but my porch was too shady. No matter how much I turned and adjusted the adapters, they almost never turned the lights off.

I installed the timer in place of the light switch in my foyer that operates both of my porch lights. I can program it for up to seven different cycles a week or even set it to turn the lights on and off randomly when I’m on vacation, but I just chose the default dusk-to-dawn cycle.

But here’s what’s really cool: When I set up the timer, it prompted me to enter the longitude and latitude for my area, which is easy to find online. With that information, the timer will continually adjust the on and off times automatically as the days get shorter or longer. I never have to reset it again.

And despite the programming, I can still turn the lights on or off whenever I want.

I love technology.

I’ve done some simple electrical projects before, so installing the timer wasn’t difficult. It probably took a half-hour, including several trips up and down the basement stairs to turn the circuit breaker off and then back on or to grab some tool I’d forgotten. The instructions that came with the timer were pretty sketchy, but I already had some basic electrical knowledge and was able to find out the rest online.

However, let me say here that I respect the potential of electricity to (a) kill me and (b) burn down my house. If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire an electrician.

A few things you should know:

-- For this model, you’ll need a white (neutral) wire in your electrical box. Most homes built in the last 35 years or so will have it, but it’s worth taking off the switch plate to check before you buy. Be sure to turn off the power before you start poking around in there.

-- If you don’t have a white wire, you can buy a battery-operated timer instead, like this one.

-- Be sure to buy the color that matches your other switches and outlets.

-- Programming the timer takes some patience, and the instructions for my model left a lot to be desired. I was able to figure it out, but if you’re not adept at that sort of thing, this may not be the product for you.

-- You’ll need a switch plate with an opening big enough for rocker switch, which is the same size as the timer. Luckily, you can find covers in all kinds of configurations, including some that accommodate both toggle and rocker switches.

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